Savior Complex movie review & film summary (2023)

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“Savior Complex” gets even richer when one considers the flaws of No White Saviors, an organization with a vocal, outspoken leader who just happens to be a white American woman. Seriously. She jokes it away, but the idea that Kelsey Nielsen doesn’t understand that she too is kind of a white savior saving Ugandans from white saviors is amazing, especially as the organization continues to push for the literal prosecution of Bach, even when the story doesn’t line up exactly how they want it to. For example, a mother is interviewed for their case against Bach, but she considers the missionary an actual life-saver—instead of just going with the viewpoint of the woman whose child was actually saved, NWS uses images of her child on social media to further their cause in a grossly exploitative manner. And some of their social media campaigns cross the line into abuse, especially when they involve Bach’s adopted daughter.

Even the numbers in the Bach case can be hard to decipher. Bach and her team, including her mother, argue that 105 children died at SHC, with a mortality rate of 11%. Over the same period, the nearby children’s hospital had a mortality rate of 14%. However, these numbers simply can’t tell the whole story. If Bach had listened more than acted, could her number have been under 10%? If so, aren’t those lives valuable? However, if Bach hadn’t been there, could that number have been doubled?

It all becomes a battle of interpretation and perception that can inherently have no winners. Jesko and her team, including the great Roger Ross Williams as an executive producer, avoid the true crime docuseries clichés by allowing people to walk away from “Savior Complex” with a better understanding of the people involved but no clear answers on what happened or who, if anyone, is to blame. Bach would argue that being forced out of the country by No White Saviors cost lives because there was no one there to help the malnourished children of the region who couldn’t get to a hospital. It’s probably true. And yet Bach’s brand of righteous privilege is obviously extremely dangerous. Also true. 

The opening episode of Jesko’s series includes a repeated quote from Exodus: “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” Despite the balance that makes it so rich, “Savior Complex” ultimately makes very clear the danger inherent in this belief, one that justifies drastic, life-changing things like medical intervention under the banner of being called by God. It’s a complicated blend of so many interesting and competing ideas, a docuseries worth watching, especially for any organization even considering getting involved in a society other than their own.

Whole series was screened for review. “Savior Complex” premieres on HBO tonight, with two more episodes airing tomorrow, all available on Max this evening.


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